Category Archives: World News

World News, International

North Korea expels Australian tourist John Short for ‘religious crimes’

By Kelcey Caulder

PYONGYANG, NORTH KOREA (BNO NEWS) — Australian tourist John Short was expelled from North Korea on Monday after being held in detention for nearly two weeks for committing anti-North Korean religious acts. He was released after a confession was published by state-run media.

John Short, 75, was arrested on February 18 after he spread Bible tracts around the Popun Buddhist temple in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang on February 16, which is known in the country as the ‘Day of the Shining Star’ and marks the birthday of former leader Kim Jong-il.

Before Monday’s release, Short apologized for committing the crimes on what is regarded as the country’s greatest national holiday. “I deeply apologize for what I have done by spreading my Bible tracts on February 16, the birthday of His Excellency Kim Jong Il,” he said in comments published by state-run media. “The people of the DPRK regard February 16th as the greatest national holiday.”

Short continued: “I now realize the seriousness of my insult to the Korean people on February 16th because I made the Korean people angry and for this I truly apologize.” He also admitted to having committed ‘religious crimes’ last year during a previous visit to the country.

Short said he hired a South Korean businessman in early 2012 to translate his Bible tracts into Korean after hearing there is no religious freedom in North Korea and that foreigners are not welcome to visit or attend for church. He said he later transported several small-sized versions of his Bible tracts into the reclusive country in August 2012.

“I committed the criminal act against the law of the DPRK by spreading my Bible tracts in Pyongyang underground station on the train … I was interested to see if I could possibly carry more on another occasion,” Short said. “In February 2014 I came as a tourist to DPRK to spread my Bible tracts in a larger quantity.”

Short asked the North Korean government for understanding and forgiveness and promised to make no further attempts at spreading Christianity in the country. It was not immediately known whether Short, who lives in Hong Kong, had made the confession voluntarily.

Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said it had confirmed through the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang that Short had been released and deported. “Clearly this is welcome news for Mr. Short, his family and his supporters,” a spokesperson said. “Australian consular officials stand ready to provide assistance to Mr. Short to ensure he can return to his home in Hong Kong as soon as possible.”

Belgium warns against travel to Sharm el-Sheikh over ‘serious threat’

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM (BNO NEWS) — The Belgium government on Friday warned its citizens against traveling to the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh over a ‘serious threat,’ just a day after the Dutch and German authorities issued similar warnings due to the threat of terrorist attacks.

Belgium had previously warned tourists against going to the Gulf of Aqaba and Friday’s warning therefore encompasses the entire Sinai region. “Due to a serious threat and after consultations with The Netherlands and Germany, all travel to Sharm el-Sheikh is discouraged,” Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders said.

Reynders gave no details about the nature of the threat, or if any new information had been received that would put tourists at risk, but it came less than a day after Dutch and German authorities issued similar warnings and tour operators began evacuating hundreds of holidaymakers.

“The violence in Sinai has escalated in recent months and there is a realistic threat of terrorist attacks,” the Dutch Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Thursday. “Dutch nationals who are currently in Sharm el-Sheikh or one of the other resorts in Sinai are advised to leave the region and contact their tour operator.”

Earlier this month, three South Korean tourists and an Egyptian driver were killed when a suicide bomber blew himself up inside a bus carrying South Korean churchgoers at a border crossing near the town of Taba on the Sinai Peninsula. The region’s Islamist militant group Ansar Bait al-Maqdis claimed responsibility.

Pope Francis cancels Rome visit due to ‘mild ailment’

VATICAN CITY (BNO NEWS) — Pope Francis canceled a planned visit to a Rome seminary on Friday because the pontiff is suffering from ‘a mild ailment’ and his doctor has advised him to rest, the Vatican said, making it the first public engagement to be canceled since his election last year.

Francis, 77, was scheduled to visit the Pontifical Major Roman Seminary in Rome on Friday evening to address priests and men on the occasion of the ‘Feast of Our Lady of Trust.’ The event in the Italian capital was canceled at the last minute when the Vatican released a brief statement.

“Pope Francis will not be traveling to the Roman Seminary tonight because of a slight indisposition with slight fever,” said Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi in a communique issued by the Holy See press office. “His doctor advised him to cancel the scheduled event and to rest.”

Other details were not immediately available, but it was the first time since his election nearly a year ago that the pontiff was forced to cancel a public event.

Roadside bomb kills NATO soldier in Afghanistan’s south

KABUL, AFGHANISTAN (BNO NEWS) — A coalition service member was killed Friday when a roadside bomb exploded in southern Afghanistan, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said. It raises the number of foreign troops killed in Afghanistan so far this year to 13.

ISAF said one of its service members was killed as a result of an improvised explosive device (IED) attack in Afghanistan’s southern region, which was the birthplace of the Taliban movement nearly two decades ago. But because the multinational force defers the release of specific details to national authorities, no other details about the incident were available, including the exact location.

The nationality of the service member involved was also not immediately disclosed by ISAF, again per its policy. “It is ISAF policy to defer casualty identification procedures to the relevant national authorities,” ISAF said in a brief statement, giving no specific details. The alliance does also not disclose whether other service members were injured.

Friday’s death raises the number of coalition troops killed in Afghanistan so far this year to 13, according to official figures. A total of 160 ISAF troops were killed in Afghanistan in 2013, down from 402 fatalities in 2012 and 566 in 2011. A majority of the fallen troops were American and were killed in the country’s south, which is plagued by IED attacks on troops and civilians.

There are currently more than 52,600 foreign troops in Afghanistan, including some 33,600 U.S. troops and 5,200 British soldiers. The UN Security Council extended ISAF’s authorization for a final time last year, as all foreign combat troops are due to leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

In June 2013, Afghan President Hamid Karzai announced the fifth and final phase of security transition in which coalition forces hand over control of the remaining 95 districts – including Taliban stronghold areas in the south and east – to Afghan security forces. ISAF will still be responsible for military air support as well as support in combat operations until the end of 2014.

Myanmar orders Médecins Sans Frontières to cease operations

By Tashauna Thompson

NAYPYIDAW, MYANMAR (BNO NEWS) — The government of Myanmar (Burma) on Friday ordered the independent aid agency Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) to cease operations over claims of bias in its medical treatment, officials said.

Some 30,000 HIV/AIDS patients and more than 3,000 Tuberculosis patients in Myanmar will be unable to receive the treatment they need after MSF clinics in Rakhine, Shan, and Kachin states were ordered to close. A presidential spokesperson accused MSF of a ‘lack of impartiality’ by favoring the treatment of Rakhine’s Muslim Rohingya minority.

Rakhine is a conflict-ridden state in Myanmar where the Rohingya people are discriminated against and denied basic rights. There have been several reported outbreaks of mass violence against them since June 2012, killing nearly 300 people and displacing more than 14,000 others.

The Rohingya people are considered stateless and are rejected by both Myanmar and neighboring Bangladesh. The charity MSF provided emergency assistance to Rohingya displaced by the recent violence in the state.

MSF has acknowledged that it has prioritized the treatment of the Rohingya community over any other people in the region, the BBC reported. The aid group delivers emergency aid to people affected by conflicts, epidemics, natural disasters, and lack of healthcare, and MSF was the only source of healthcare for Rohingya.

“MSF is deeply shocked by this unilateral decision and extremely concerned about the fate of tens of thousands of patients currently under our care across the country,” the organization said in a statement released on Friday. Contrary to the biased treatment allegations, the MSF said it “offers assistance to people based on need, irrespective of race, religion, gender, or political affiliation.”

MSF, which was founded in France in 1971, said it is negotiating reinstatement with the Myanmar Government.

Pro-Assad forces kill 175 rebels in ambush near Damascus

DAMASCUS, SYRIA (BNO NEWS) — At least 175 Islamist rebel fighters, most of them foreigners, were killed Wednesday when forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad carried out an ambush in an insurgent-held area east of the capital Damascus, activists and state-run media said.

The ambush occurred near a town in the Eastern Ghouta area east of Damascus when a Syrian army unit pursued rebels as they crossed a field, the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) reported. It said the rebels were members of the al-Qaeda-linked Al-Nusra Front and the Salafist Jihadi Liwa al-Islam group.

“[A field commander said] the army process comes as a result of tightening the grip around the armed terrorist groups to prevent terrorists from infiltrating into Eastern Ghouta,” SANA said in its report. “He affirmed that the armed group was trying to ease pressure on terrorists … through bringing terrorists, supported by Western and regional states through the Jordanian borders.”

SANA said more than 175 rebels were killed and others were injured, but the figures could not be independently verified, though photos released by the government-run news agency showed dozens of bodies. The Britain-based activist group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said it had verified the deaths of at least 152 rebels.

“The deaths of 152 fighters from Al-Nusra Front and Islamic battalions was confirmed in an ambush carried out by the Lebanese Hezbollah and regular forces between the towns of al-A’teiba and Meed’a,” the Observatory said. It added that at least seven wounded rebels were taken captive during the ambush.

Syrian state media said most of those killed in Wednesday’s ambush were believed to be Saudi, Qatari and Chechen nationalities. It said “a large number” of rebels belonging to Al-Nusra Front were also killed during an army operation in Lattakia province, but no figures were provided.

The crisis in Syria began as a pro-democracy protest movement in March 2011, similar to those across the Middle East and North Africa. The Syrian government violently cracked down on the protests, setting off an armed conflict between pro-Assad forces and anti-government forces.

The United Nations estimates that more than 100,000 people, many of them civilians, have been killed and millions more have fled to neighboring countries since the start of the uprising that has escalated into a full-blown civil war. Opposition groups estimate the number of deaths has already exceeded 200,000, but those figures cannot be independently verified.

Killers of British soldier Lee Rigby sentenced to life

By Tashauna Thompson

LONDON, ENGLAND (BNO NEWS) — Two al-Qaeda-inspired men convicted of murdering a British soldier in the streets of London last year were sentenced Wednesday, one to life without parole and the other to life with a minimum of 45 years, officials said. They were both removed from the courtroom after disrupting the sentencing.

In an attack witnessed by bystanders in May 2013, Michael Adebolajo, 29, and Michael Adebowale, 22, struck soldier Lee Rigby with a car before stabbing him to death with a meat cleaver and knives. “Today’s sentence reflects the true horror of their actions in taking this young man’s life in such a barbaric way,” said Police Assistant Commissioner Cressida Dick.

In December, a jury unanimously found the defendants guilty of brutally murdering 25-year-old Drummer Lee Rigby, but the men were found not guilty of the attempted murder of a police officer. Adebolajo and Adebowale had pleaded guilty to possession of a firearm with intent to cause fear of violence at an earlier hearing.

As Justice Sweeney began Wednesday’s sentencing, the two British Muslim converts began to shout and scuffle with court security guards, the BBC reported. Adebolajo was heard shouting “Allahu Akbar” (“God is great”) and Adebowale shouted “that’s a lie” when the judge said their extremist views were “a betrayal of Islam.”

Both men were eventually forced to the ground and removed from the court.

Sue Hemming, the head of counter-terrorism at the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), said Rigby’s murder marked “one of the most appalling terrorist murders” she had ever seen. “Not only was the attack brutal and calculated, it was also designed to advance extremist views. As a soldier, Fusilier Rigby was targeted in a clear act of revenge, deliberately carried out in full view of members of the public for maximum impact,” she said.

The May 22, 2013, murder was deemed a terrorist attack carried out by the self-described “soldiers of Allah.” According to the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS), which is better known as Scotland Yard, Drummer Rigby was on the afternoon of the murder returning from duty in central London to Woolwich Barracks where he was based.

Adebolajo, with Adebowale in the passenger seat, drove a Vauxhall Tigra directly at Rigby at a speed between 30 to 40 miles (48 to 64 kilometers) per hour. The soldier was struck from behind and carried on the hood of the car until falling on the ground when it came to a stop.

Adebolajo and Adebowale then exited the vehicle and attacked Rigby with knives and a machete before dragging him into the middle of the road and repeatedly stabbing him. When officers arrived at the scene, the men ran back towards the car with Adebolajo raising the cleaver above his head. Police shot and detained both men.

“I know the court process has been particularly distressing for Lee Rigby’s family. I hope they can take some small comfort from the sentences imposed today and can begin to move forward.” Hemming said. Rigby is survived by his wife Rebecca and two-year-old son Jack.

Collapse at Thai construction site kills 10 workers

BANGKOK, THAILAND (BNO NEWS) — Ten workers were killed Tuesday and more than a dozen others were injured when a large concrete beam collapsed at the construction site of a medical center just outside the Thai capital of Bangkok, officials said. The cause was not immediately known.

The accident happened at around 11:30 a.m. local time at a construction site of Ramathibodi Hospital’s Chakri Naruebodindra Medical Center, which is located in Bang Phli District of Samut Prakan province, close to Bangkok. It happened when a concrete beam linking two buildings on the fourth floor fell onto construction workers who were eating their lunch.

The Faculty of Medicine Ramathibodi Hospital, which in turn is part of Mahidol University, said six construction workers died at the scene of the collapse while four others died in hospital, putting the total number of fatalities at ten. Sixteen others were injured, two of them critically, and rescue teams were continuing to search the site to make sure no one was still trapped.

At least some of those killed, among them a 15-year-old boy, were from Cambodia and Myanmar (Burma), district officials said. It was not immediately clear what caused the beam, measuring 20 meters (65.6 feet) wide and 15 meters (49.2 feet) long, to collapse.

U.S. expels 3 Venezuelan diplomats in tit-for-tat move

WASHINGTON, D.C. (BNO NEWS) — The United States has ordered three Venezuelan diplomats to leave the country after they were declared ‘persona non grata’ in a tit-for-tat move for President Nicolas Maduro’s recent expulsion of three American diplomats accused of fomenting anti-government protests, officials said on Tuesday.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the three officials from the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington, D.C. were given 48 hours to leave the United States after the order was given on Monday evening. “The [Vienna] convention permits the United States to declare any member of a diplomatic mission persona non grata at any time and without the necessity to state a reason,” Psaki said.

The move is a direct response to last week’s expulsion of three American diplomats in Venezuela, where weeks of anti-government protests have killed at least 16 people and injured more than 200 others. The protests have declined in recent days, but sporadic protests continue in the capital Caracas and elsewhere in the country.

On February 17, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elias Jaua accused U.S. diplomats Brent Mary McCusker, Elsen Gordon, and Clark Christopher Lee of using a visa program as a cover to meet with youth organizers. He alleged the meetings were intended for “training, financing and creating youth organizations through which violence is promoted in Venezuela.”

The U.S. government, which described the accusations as “baseless and false,” said the consular officers were conducting “normal outreach activities” at universities regarding student visas. “We have seen many times that the Venezuelan government tries to distract from its own actions by blaming the United States or other members of the international community for events inside Venezuela,” Psaki said at the time.

Psaki said the expulsion of its diplomats reflect “a lack of seriousness” on the part of the Venezuelan government to deal with the anti-government protests and said Venezuela’s political future is for the Venezuelan people to decide. “We urge Venezuela’s government to work to address its people’s grievances forthrightly through real, meaningful dialogue,” she said.

It was not the first time that Venezuela had expelled American diplomats. Three U.S. embassy officials accused of plotting to “sabotage” the economy and electrical infrastructure of Venezuela were expelled from the country in October 2013, just months after Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro ordered the expulsion of two U.S. military attaches after claiming they had attempted to infiltrate the armed forces.

CNN to end Piers Morgan’s primetime show amid low ratings

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA (BNO NEWS) — CNN has decided to end Piers Morgan’s primetime show, the American news network announced on Monday, three years after the former “America’s Got Talent” judge was chosen to replace legendary talk show host Larry King.

“CNN confirms that Piers Morgan Live is ending,” CNN spokeswoman Meghan McPartland said in an email on Monday, confirming news reports that CNN President Jeff Zucker had decided to end “Piers Morgan Live,” which registered only 50,000 viewers in the 25-to-54-year-old demographic last week. McPartland said a date for the final show has not yet been determined.

Morgan, a Briton who has been outspoken and critical of American issues such as gun rights, faced a barrage of mocking after Monday’s announcement. “Amusing BBC News coverage of my CNN show ending just now. Thought the reporter was actually going to burst out laughing with glee,” Morgan wrote on his Twitter account.

In other tweets, Morgan criticized media reports and commentators on Twitter about the show’s exit. “Thanks, chaps – Slate’s st too,” Morgan wrote in response to a headline from the online magazine Slate that read: “CNN’s Piers Morgan Live was rubbish. It will not be missed.”

It was not immediately clear who may replace Morgan’s primetime show, though 80-year-old Larry King, who currently hosts ‘Larry King Now’ for Ora TV, indicated he would be interested. “If [Zucker] talked to the people at Ora TV and they could work it out, I would do it,” King was quoted as saying by The Daily Beast website.

‘Larry King Live’ was first aired in 1985 and dominated CNN’s lineup for 25 years, making it the most watched and longest running program with more than one million viewers nightly. Although his ratings eventually began to slip before his exit in December 2010, he is widely recognized as one of the world’s best interviewers.

Morgan, who appeared as a judge on “America’s Got Talent” and “Britain’s Got Talent” before winning the U.S. celebrity version of “The Apprentice,” was an unpopular and controversial choice from the start, though CNN hoped his ratings would improve overtime. He was interviewed under caution by British police in December, but it is not believed to have played a role in CNN’s decision to end “Piers Morgan Live.”